Rabbi Yakov Haber
Rabbi Yakov Haber

Kiddush Hashem, Chilul Hashem and the Human "I"

"And you shall not desecrate My holy name, and I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel; I am Hashem Who sanctifies you" (Vayikra 22:32). With this verse, the Torah prohibits chilul Hashem, profanation of Hashem's name and charges us to sanctify it. The reward for kiddush Hashem is of enormous magnitude (see Pesachim 50a and Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 5:11), and, by contrast, the punishment for desecration of G-d's name is also greatly magnified by our Sages.
Both willful and unwitting desecration of Hashem's name is punishable (Avos 4:4). In the hierarchy of sins, Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 1:4), based on Yoma (86a), places chilul Hashem on the highest level recording that one who violates this sin requires repentance, Yom Kippur, suffering and death to achieve atonement.

Rambam (Mitzvos Lo Ta'aseh 63, Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 5:4,10-11) enumerates three different types of chilul Hashem. The first entails violating one of the fundamental sins of the Torah even under threat of life or transgressing any sin in a time of religious persecution (she'as hashemad) in similar circumstances. The second consists of a prominent Torah scholar known for his piety acting not in accordance with a high standard of morality even where that activity is not formally prohibited. But the Rambam also lists another category. In the Rambam's own words (ibid. 5:10):

Whoever consciously transgresses one of the mitzvot related in the Torah, without being forced to, in a spirit of derision (בשאט נפש), to arouse [Divine] anger (להכעיס) , desecrates [G-d's] name. Therefore, [Leviticus 19:12] states, regarding [taking] an oath in vain: "[for] you are desecrating the name of your Lord; I am G-d." If he transgresses amidst ten Jews, he desecrates [G-d's] name in public.[1]

The simple reading of the Rambam's words implies that a sin only matches this categorization if the transgressor performs it to "spite" the Almighty. Any other motivation - although not justifying the sin itself and clearly its violator would be liable to Divine punishment - would not qualify the act as one of chilul Hashem. Yet, several authorities expand this type of chilul Hashem focusing on the phrase bish'at nefesh. Rambam himself in enumerating the negative commandment of chilul Hashem (Mitzvos lo ta'aseh 63) writes: "The second type...is when a person performs a sin concerning which he has no desire for or benefit from but intends with his action [an act of] rebellion and rejection of the yoke of the reign of Heaven." This formulation implies that the sin need not be done specifically to "arouse Divine anger" but rather that the motivation for sinning comprises a rejection of the "yoke of the reign of Heaven". Indeed, the halacha recognizes two types of an aveira l'hach'is - literally translated as a sin to anger G-d. The first is where the sinner deliberately chooses to violate the sin rather than availing himself of an equally accessible permissible activity. The second is where the sinner does not specifically choose to sin, but sinning and not sinning are exactly equivalent in his eyes. Violation of that particular Word of G-d is of no consequence to him, and he will equivalently choose an object of sin or a permissible one.[2] The Rambam's formulation in his Sefer HaMitzvos implies that both types of sin - even the less severe one whereby the sin is of no consequence to him, but he does not specifically choose to rebel against Hashem's will - are included in the additional prohibition of chilul Hashem.

Chafetz Chaim (introduction, Negative Commandments, 6) interprets Rambam's and Sefer Yere'im's respective formulations in exactly this way and applies this interpretation to the speaking of lashon hara. Since no tangible benefit accrues to the speaker, the motivation clearly is at least that this commandment is of no consequence to him and consequently the speaker violates chilul Hashem in addition to the specific prohibition of "לא תלך רכיל בעמך". Interestingly, Chazon Ish is quoted as saying that the Chafetz Chaim never tasted the lure of lashon hara; otherwise, he would not have categorized lashon hara as not being rooted in some human drive other than rejection of the Divine Will! The Dirshu edition quotes the Chafetz Chaim's son's biography of his father which records that in his youth, Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan, witnessed a horrible dispute in Radin, and he carefully noted all the psychological motivations and excuses behind the slander uttered during the argument. It was this event which motivated him to write his now famous work on lashon hara. It is reasonable to theorize that from this episode too, he concluded that the motivation is not one of personal benefit but shirking one's loyalty to the devar Hashem. My esteemed chavrusa, Rav Mordechai Bruckman נ"י, questioned why this natural human desire to be free from commandments in general or from a specific commandment is not also considered "rooted in desire" and therefore should also not violate chilul Hashem. Does not the Talmud (Nedarim 91b and elsewhere) teach us based on the passage in Mishlei (9:17), "מים גנובים ימתקו" - "stolen waters are sweeter" - namely, the desire to be free from the Divine yoke of commandments serves as a powerful influence in human behavior! He suggested two approaches one of which I wish to elaborate upon here with profound implications for an understanding of our very sense of self. [3]

In a situation where the motivation for violation of a mitzvah is external to the fact that it is mitzvah such as desire, pursuit of glory, envy, hatred, and the like, then one does not violate chilul Hashem. But where the motivation lies purely in the fact that he is commanded and does not wish to be bound by that commandment, then that exactly is the definition of chilul Hashem. Rambam defines kiddush Hashem (Mitzvos asei 9) as "l'farseim ha'emunah hazos ha'amitis ba'olam" - "to publicize this true belief in the world". Chilul Hashem then can be defined as the opposite: "to lessen this true belief". A person whose motivation to sin is the apparent "sweetness" that sin itself presents is professing that he does not wish to spread even within himself "this true belief" system. Consequently, he is guilty of chilul, or evacuating and emptying Hashem's very presence in his life.

To investigate this idea further, it would appear that the desire to be free of commandments is rooted in our very sense of self. All human beings, arguably in contrast to animals, have a deep-seated sense of "I am, I exist". That sense of self naturally rebels against having someone else control what they do, how they think, or what they say.[4] Even if a person chooses to follow a Divine rule or l'havdil a societal law, he naturally wishes to do so because he wishes to do so, not because he was commanded.[5] To counteract this natural tendency, Hashem Yisbarach demands of us to be mekabeil ol malchus shamayim, to accept the yoke of the rule of Heaven. This does not merely consist of performing the mitzvos; it entails, in the language of Rav Y. D. Soloveitchik zt"l, "surrender" of our free will to G-d. My Rebbe, Rav Chaim Ya'akov Goldwicht zt"l, former Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh, would often elaborate on a similar idea based on the teaching in Pirkei Avos (2:4) of "עשה רצונו כרצונך" - "make His will your will" and "בטל רצונך מפני רצונו" - "nullify your will before His". Mori v'Rabi Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt"l in an essay objected to the seemingly positive expression, popular among Israeli religious youth: "אני מתחבר לזה" - "I connect to this!" referring to mitzvos. He noted that this statement lacks the important concept of kabbalas ol - whether or not one "connects" to mitzvos, he is bound to accept the Divine plan for him and ultimately the world.[6]

On a simple level, in order that we fulfill our mission in the world and ultimately connect to our Source of Life eternally, Hashem commands us notwithstanding our sense of "I am" to surrender and accept the ol mitzvos. However, Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson zt"l presented a deeper understanding of this requirement to "surrender" to the Divine will. Man's very sense of self is rooted in his "tzelem Elokim", his being created in the "image of G-d". Without this endowment, a human being would have no greater sense of self than a rock, a plant, or an animal. If so, a human being's sense of "I am" is an echo of an echo of the ultimate "I am" - "אנכי ד' אלקיך". Thus, the very source of man's desire to rebel against the authority of G-d, rejecting His commandments as binding him to perform or avoid certain activities, is rooted in the very fact that he was endowed by his Creator with this sense of self. Therefore, "chasing" G-d or His Will away from his consciousness is ultimately a self-contradiction. Hashem commands us to recognize that precisely because of our very sense of self, being rooted in the formation of man by his Creator, we should submit to His will, our ultimate purpose of being created. Perhaps this is exactly why activity rooted in the desire not to be bound by G-d's will is characterized as blatant chilul Hashem and is not mitigated by being rooted in some external desire. The very internal desire to shirk Divinely imposed responsibility based on the sense of self is an attempt to deny one's very basic connection to the Source of tselem Elokim and hence constitutes a chilul Hashem. This approach seems directly implied by the above-quoted verse delineating the prohibition of chilul Hashem and the commandment of kiddush Hashem: "And you shall not desecrate My holy name, and I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel; I am Hashem Who sanctifies you" - because I, Hashem, have sanctified you and endowed you with your tselem Elokim and sense of self, you should realize that you should channel it for My service and not for precisely the opposite.

The above-quoted Rambam concludes that a form of kiddush Hashem is fulfilling His commandments for no other reason other than that it comprises His will:

Conversely, anyone who refrains from committing a sin or performs a mitzvah for no ulterior motive, neither out of fear or dread, nor to seek honor, but for the sake of the Creator, blessed be He - as Joseph held himself back from his master's wife - sanctifies G-d's name.[7]

This expresses the full internalization that man was formed to "heed his Master's call", was endowed with a miniature of G-d's very sense of self, kiv'yachol, precisely in order to recognize His Creator and align himself with the Divine blueprint of the world. Here man utilizes his free will to choose to submit to Hashem's will fully cognizant that this represents his true will as well.[8] In the beautiful words of Rav Yehuda HaLevi, "עבדי הזמן, עבדי עבדים הם; עבד ד' הוא לבד חפשי" - "the servants of time are slaves of slaves; only a servant of Hashem is truly free!" May Hashem grant us the ability to constantly perform His will selflessly unencumbered with ulterior motives and to constantly "publicize this true belief" to ourselves, our families, and the world.


[1] Translation courtesy of www.chabad.org from Rav Eliyahu Touger's translation of Mishne Torah, published and copyright by Moznaim Publications.

[2] See Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. Hilchos Shechita 2:5).

[3] The second suggests that if the benefit comes from the act itself with no consideration of the disastrous consequences, the primary focus of the sin of lashon hara, then this constitutes chilul Hashem since the root of the sin, namely, its consequences, does not in any way grant him any benefit. See other approaches in the Dirshu edition.

[4] This is expressed succinctly in the Declaration of Independence of the United States: "Every man has an inalienable right to ... liberty". Natan Sharansky, in order to preserve his sense of independence from Soviet attempts to enslave his mind, would always do the opposite of what he was told, including, when he was freed and told to just walk across the bridge, zigzagging across it instead!

[5] This serves as the foundation of natural or scientific morality as opposed to Divine morality. See Sefer Ikkarim (Ma'amar 1) at length.

[6] See Y'tzias Mitzrayim: The Source of Kabbalas Ol Malchus Shamayim where the Avudraham is cited who utilizes this concept to explain the purpose of a reciting a blessing before performing a commandment. Of course, this is also the root of the commandment of the twice daily recital of kerias shema.

[7] See footnote 1.

[8] See Gur Aryeh (Shemos 20:22) that obligatory mitzvos are sometimes commanded with the word "im" or "if" implying they are discretionary and not obligatory in order to highlight the fact that the person chooses to serve his Creator; only this can be called "service". I believe this presents no contradiction to the notion of kabbalas ol - the person chooses to surrender his will to his Creator's will.

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